Tuesday, December 18, 2012

little shop, little shop of horrors

As I have mentioned before, I don't particularly like shopping. I can tolerate some stores, like Target and my local supermarket. Multi-level malls, however, make me cringe. I admit that I have found myself, on occasion, in a Walmart, but I don't like to linger. I like to get my incredibly low-priced merchandise and get the hell out of there (mostly, for fear that someone I know will see me in a Walmart... but, wait! That means they're in a Walmart, too!). Walmart's cheap prices cannot be denied. The drawback is that you have to go to Walmart to get them. But, judging by the amount of customers in a Walmart on any given day, you would never imagine that the economy is suffering.

Target has shrewdly positioned itself above Walmart, while avoiding the pretentiousness of department stores. Target's combination of kitschy chic and sensible discounts is brilliant marketing. In spite of the fact that Target sells peanut butter and winter coats and power drills, it remains cool. (Walmart also sells peanut butter and winter coats and power drills, yet it remains not cool.)

Then there's K-Mart.

On a recent Saturday, my wife had a few last-minute gifts to purchase and since Chanukah blindsided us with an early arrival this year, we decided to get our collective asses in gear. Mrs. P received an emailed plea from K-Mart, based on a purchase she made nearly eight months ago. The offer, phrased in an almost pathetic beg, promised seven whole dollars off any purchase in the store. Closer inspection revealed that the item must be selected from the toy department. Well, better than nothing! We'll just get something for seven bucks and split. (But, I've known my wife for thirty years and there's no such thing as "hit and run" when it comes to her and shopping.... even at K-Mart.)

The closest K-Mart to our house requires driving past several malls, shopping complexes and strip centers. With the big gift-giving holidays approaching at a threatening pace, the parking lots of these commerce establishments were packed. Anxious shoppers maneuvered their cars in and around lengthy rows of vehicles, hoping to spot that one elusive space and get on with their shopping. Lot after lot was a sea of chrome and tires... until we came to K-Mart. Poor K-Mart. In K-Mart's parking lot, we had our pick of prime parking accommodations. I could have made a blindfolded U-turn with a cruise ship and not hit anything.

We entered the store. It was sad. A single display of generic boxed Christmas cards stood just inside the automatic doors. It was tilting a bit to left. A few confused shoppers pushed nearly-empty carts aimlessly about. I whispered to my wife, "See these people? Obviously, there was an incident and they've been banned from Walmart. Now, they have to come here instead. Why else would anyone shop here?"

Continuing deeper into the store, it just got sadder. A few popcorn tins, dented and emblazoned with several out-of-favor cartoon characters, were stacked haphazardly in one aisle. Another aisle offered varied gift sets ranging from hot chocolate kits to shaving outfits. Next to that was cardboard shelving stocked with Ben Gay. Tinny, unrecognizable Christmas music trickled out of the ceiling speakers.

We found the shabby toy department and proceeded up and down each aisle — several times — scanning the shelves for something — anything — we could grab for seven bucks. We settled on a Hello Kitty lunchbox and headed for the checkout area. As we expected, the lines were light. When it was our turn, I placed our selections (yeah, yeah... we got other stuff, too. I told you!) up on the counter and my wife presented the print out of her special K-Mart offer. The cashier looked at the paper as though it were the twentieth question in the math section of the SATs. She pressed a series of keys on her cash resister and reported that "the system is down," praying we would just pay cash and leave her brain alone. Mrs. P explained the origins of the offer to the cashier, an explanation that would have received the same reaction had it been delivered in that South American tribal clicky language. A manager was summoned. She was cordial, businesslike and swift in her actions. Gently shoving the cashier aside, the manager mashed some buttons, swiped some access cards and whisked the printed paper out of the cashier's hand. "I'll have to hold on to this.," she said as she started back to the customer service area. We gathered up our bagged items and started for our car. Seven dollars had been deducted from our receipt.

While we loaded the bags into the back of my wife's SUV, I said, "Take a good look at this place, because next year, I predict, there won't be such a thing as K-Mart. There's just no room in the world for it."


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